God is big on “One another”. When you read through the New Testament it stands out how often we are challenged about our treatment of one another in the body of Christ. Jesus even said it was by our love for one another that the world would know that we really were followers of His in John 13:34,35. In Ephesians we have been challenged by Paul to “Love one another”, “Be kind to one another”, “Forgive one another” and now in Ephesians 5:21 to be subject to one another.
It is pretty common to hear people read Scripture in church and begin reading in Ephesians 5:22 about “Wives be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” But it is rare to have anyone read that verse along with the verse before it that tells us to be subject to one another. Just in case you think the Holy Spirit slipped up in this passage or even in the thinking of the apostle Paul, notice what Peter said on the same theme in I Peter 5:5. He had been talking to the elders or shepherds of the church and told them to shepherd the flock taking the oversight of it. Then he said, “You younger men likewise, be subject to your elders; and let all of you be subject to one another and be clothed with humility for God resist the proud but gives grace to the humble.” To be effective leaders as elders in the church the church will need to be willing to submit to the elders and follow them. But there are times when the elders also need to be subject to the congregation and follow their leading. Good elders realize they don’t have all the answers and that effective leadership involves a lot of listening to others and what they think.
In exactly the same way Paul told wives to be subject to their husbands as to the Lord. Wives are to allow their husbands to be leaders in the family. Leadership is not something that needs to be fought for either in the home or the church. In neither case does it work for the husband or the elders to demand that people follow them. But when in either case the people or the wife is willing to submit and follow then they can be effective leaders. But if they are to continue to be effective they will also need to submit to the wife or to the congregation at times.
Many times through the years in working with couples that were having problems I’ve observed husbands who were insecure about their leadership role to the degree they tried to assume roles that it would have been far, far better if they had delegated the responsibility to the wife. I remember meeting with one couple in which the husband believed that it was a man’s place to handle the check book and pay the bills for the family. When I ask them which one of the two was best in handling money and understood finances best, he quickly said it was her. The truth was she had a degree in finance and worked as a CPA. He readily admitted that he was not very good with money and often made mistakes that caused lots of stress for their family. I asked him why then didn’t he allow his wife to handle the check book and pay the bills for the family. He said he didn’t believe it was right for her to do that. I asked why he felt that way and he said it was for two reasons. First he said, that was the way his father always did it and he wasn’t very good at it either. Second, he said, I think that is what the Bible teaches. I’m to be the head of the house and part of that is handling the money. I asked him if he did everything in marriage the same way his father had done and he said, “No, there were several areas he intentionally did differently because he felt his father was weak in those areas.” I asked if there were responsibilities in the home that he delegated to his wife and he said there were many, where she was just a whole lot better at things that he was.
It took some time and lots of questioning and trying to help him reach the conclusion on his own for him to reach the decision he as head of the house could delegate responsibilities to his wife without disobeying God. Notice the comparison Paul made in trying to help us understand the whole matter of being subject to someone. He said the wife was to be subject to the husband and the husband be the head of the wife, “As Christ also is the head of the church and is savior of the body.” Jesus is the supreme leader of the church which is his bride. Yet he delegated to the church tremendous responsibilities and allowed the church a huge amount of freedom to make decisions on how they will serve the Lord and please Him. Jesus typically gave us principles on living for Him and left the means and methods up to us as to how they would be handled.
The greatest commission was for the church to preach and teach the gospel to all people and all ethnic groups around the world. The ones who became disciples were to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and taught to observe all that he has commanded us and Jesus promised to be with us in that work forever. (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16) We have no choice as God’s people but to go and share His good news with the world. But think of all the ways that were left to our own decisions. How we go and where we as a congregation go is left up to us. How we preach and teach the gospel is up to us. Where we baptize and who baptizes is up to us. How we teach people to observe all commanded by the Lord is up to us.
It is the same way with worship and service unto God. Paul said as it is with the Lord and the church so it is with husbands and wives. As a husband my place is to be leader of the family, but it doesn’t teach that I’m the sergeant passing out orders all the time. The very best leadership is normally almost invisible. You see the smooth operation in the family and everyone feels that they have an important job to do but no one feels they have joined the army and have a commander ruling their lives.
No one has the right to expect others to be subject to them until they have learned to be subject themselves to the Lord and to the other person.